Profile on Acting Attorney and WLALA Board Member Tracy Wilkison

By USC law student and WLALA member Martina Fouquet

March 2021

Tracy Wilkison’s voice exudes passion as she talks about her path to becoming the Acting United States Attorney for the Central District of California. Raised in upstate New York near the Adirondack Mountains, Ms. Wilkison did not know anyone in her life who was a lawyer. Ms. Wilkison’s strong interest in reading, writing, and advocacy led her to believe a legal career was the right fit for her. Eager for exposure to the legal practice, Ms. Wilkison’s father would take her to the family lawyer so she could learn more about legal careers. While an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, Ms. Wilkison worked at the State’s Attorney’s Office in Prince George’s County. Despite being assigned data entry tasks, Ms. Wilkison took advantage of her proximity to prosecutors and reached out to learn more about their practice. Ms. Wilkison was invited by the prosecutors to lunches and hearings, where she admired how prosecutors could have a positive impact on people’s communities and lives. The hard work and enthusiasm displayed by the Maryland prosecutors stuck with Ms. Wilkison as she went on to become a student at Harvard Law School.

Although Ms. Wilkison had never been to California, she decided to take the California bar because she believed California offered the most opportunities as there are many major cities in the state. While working for a Los Angeles law firm, Ms. Wilkison connected with Los Angeles lawyers at WLALA events where she met the likes of the late Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell and Judge Jacqueline Nguyen. Ms. Wilkison consistently asked WLALA lawyers about prosecution until she got an opportunity to join the United States Attorney’s Office in 1999.

Ms. Wilkison has seen many cases throughout her legal career, and one she remembers clearly is her rookie prosecutor case involving the abduction, rape, and torture of undocumented migrants. At first, the victims of the case were wary of the justice system, but over time Ms. Wilkison helped them build the courage needed to be witnesses for the case. During cross-examination, the defense asked a victim if they were on the stand simply to ensure bad things happened to the defendants. The victim replied, “No, I am giving them to the law. That’s what I’m doing here.” The case reinforces Ms. Wilkison’s belief that she is a part of a larger mission to help victims in the pursuit of justice.

As the Acting United States Attorney for the Central District of California, Ms. Wilkison aims to continue the district’s tradition of impactful prosecutions, and also improve community relations by having the U.S. Attorney’s office host more community-oriented events.  Ms. Wilkison is uncertain about her future but is steadfast in her conviction that she will continue to serve the public.

As a WLALA Law Student Mentoring Board Member, Ms. Wilkison is dedicated to “sending the elevator down” to uplift law students and young lawyers. She advises law students and young lawyers to not be afraid to push and learn more about what interests them. Ms. Wilkison believes mentoring is a pillar of a successful legal career.

During COVID, Ms. Wilkison tries to remember to be grateful, indulging in her ability to engage with her family in a way that was not possible before the pandemic. Ms. Wilkison is proud to belong to the WLALA community where she is regularly inspired by exceptional women who consistently support each other. She looks forward to seeing the community grow in the years to come.